In August 2009, SHARE El Salvador Director, Marina Peña, gave a talk to Cretin-Derham High School about the National Reality of El Salvador. This talk has been split into three parts: The History of El Salvador, Economics and Violence in El Salvador and Agriculture in El Salvador. This is the first part of the talk.
Part 1: The History of El Salvador
My name is Marina Peña, I'm the director of SHARE here in El Salvador. Welcome to this small country. El Salvador is a country with much history: much history of struggle and hope. Despite the critical situation in which we live, Salvadorans don't lose the hope of living in a better country. I'm going to tell you a little about the principal problems that we have in our country. In the subject of economics, we are confronting four main problems. The first problem which is a historic one is the problem of concentration of wealth. The wealth is in the hands of a small number of families who are very rich while the majority of the population is very poor.
This problem has provoked various movements throughout our history coming from the classes that feel marginalized acting out against the classes who have the power. For example this happened after the independence from the Spanish state as it was Spain that governed us for hundreds of years. You remember that Christopher Columbus came and colonized us at the end of the 1400's. So Spain dominated us for 300 long years and during that time they robbed from us the riches in this areas mostly being gold. The eliminated our culture. There is very little indigenous culture in our country and there used to be so much more. They destroyed the language that our indigenous spoke which was Nahuatl, and the majority of the cities they found they also destroyed. The only thing we have left now are buildings or structures that the indigenous were able to hide and the Spanish weren't able to detect. They also imposed their religion upon us over the religious beliefs that are ancestors had. It was in 1811 when the first independence struggles started to happen in Central America and it was 1821 when they achieved independence from Spain. But those who took power after independence continued exploiting the poor in our country. The people who took control where what we call Creoles, the children of the Spanish, who substituted Spanish power. They maintained a regimen of exploitation against the majority who were people who lived in the countryside, campesinos and indigenous. And so because of this exploitation and because they were kicking many indigenous off their land, there was an uprising of indigenous who were protesting against the extreme poverty they lived in and being kicked off their land. This uprising was crushed by the army, through many political assassinations, the uprising was put down by throwing the indigenous in jail or murdering them.
But fear can only keep people down for so long and in 1932 there was second uprising but this time it wasn't only the indigenous, but all campesinos. This campesino movement was accompaniment by the Communist party in El Salvador that had only been around in El Salvador for two years and one of its leaders was a man named Farabundo Marti. The majority of this happened in the western part of the country in Sonsonate, Santa Ana and Ahuachapan. From this uprising rose up leaders like Farabundo Marti and two other students named Luna and Zapata. The three of them studied at the National University here in San Salvador. This uprising was once again crushed by the army and there was a great massacre in the western part of the county and it is estimated that there were about 30,000 indigenous and campesinos killed in January and February of 1932.
Because the basic problems of social injustice were not solved, there is another movement that comes in 1970 when workers and campesinos began to demand better salaries and social justice. It started around 1972 and until 1979 we see a wave of organization that started in the campo and moved to the city where artisans, workers and farmers came together and started to organize. This movement was inspired by the Cuban revolution and the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution in 1979, but the principle motivation was the social injustice in place in our country. It was in this context that Monseñor Romero, the four churchwomen and approximately 80,000 other people were killed from about 1980-1992. In 1980, the civil war begins and it lasted until the peace accords in 1992. As I said, this war cost us 80,000 deaths and about 8,000 disappeared, hundreds of political prisoners and of course many people who left the country due to political persecution. It was in these years that many Salvadorans left our country and went to live in the states due to oppression. In those years to say something like, beans are expensive or salaries are low was to mark yourself as a communist and to be killed. In 1992 they signed the peace accords which ended the armed conflict. But the problems of social injustices and the concentration of wealth was not resolved. And this is a problem that has persisted and is now even more pronounced.
Photo 1: Christopher Columbus, conquistador
Photo 2: Anastasio Aquino, Leader in the indigenous uprising of 1833
Photo 3: Farabundo Marti, Leader of campesino uprising in 1932
Photo 4: Oscar Romero, assassinated Archbishop